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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Italian Retro-Futurism On the March!

Apparently there is something of a inter-sectarian brou-ha ha brewing in the Italian "transhumanist" futurological sub(cult)ure -- a sub(cult)ure whose members number, after all, in the tens -- in which one sect is accusing another of being fascists, prompting the counter-accusation that they are Papists, leading to the counter-accusation that they are conservatives. Hey, maybe they're all right?

Of course, we can discern one of the earliest most explicit conjunctions of fascism and technophilia in the Italian Futurists. Please to enjoy this snippet from their Manifesto way back in 1909:
"We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed. We want to glorify war -- the only cure for the world -- militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman."

This latest Italian transhuman tangle among today's futurological faithful is plainly a problematic discourse with a prolonged pedigree.


jhuang said...

Sometimes it is also translated as "we want to glorify war--the world's only hygiene.."

I think this translation captures more adequately the fears and fantasies of Italian Futurism (and arguably other futurisms).

War as "hygiene" perhaps encapsulates the Fascist dream of a pure world, ridden of the scum and dirt of society. The extermination of peoples consider as somehow lesser or non-human (thereby making them somehow impure and dirty) becomes justified as a necessary cleaning-up.

It is also perhaps a reaction to our biological existence, which is essentially animal and unclean. Of course, we mask this fact and make every effort (some people) to keep clean. We never succeed however at reaching a state of pure cleanliness (advertisements will have you believe otherwise). Biological existence is downright dirty. War rendered as hygiene therefore elevates war as a means to achieve a kind of transcendent purity or immortality.

From all of this, I sense in the Futurists an existential fear of the very fact of our biological mortality.

jimf said...

> From all of this, I sense in the Futurists an existential fear
> of the very fact of our biological mortality.

Which is all the more ironic given how eager they are to
distance themselves from the "biases", cognitive and otherwise,
of the human mind as it is now constituted. Fear (not to
say abject terror, even) of death is to be taken as some
kind of cognitive universal? Come on, guys, Olaf Stapledon
did better than this in _Last and First Men_. So did
Bertrand Russell.

"The habit of looking to the future and thinking that the whole
meaning of the present lies in what it will bring forth is a
pernicious one. There can be no value in the whole unless
there is value in the parts. Life is not to be conceived on
the analogy of a melodrama in which the hero and heroine
go through incredible misfortunes for which they are compensated
by a happy ending. I live and have my day, my son succeeds
me and has his day, his son in turn succeeds him. What is
there in all this to make a tragedy about? On the contrary,
if I lived forever the joys of life would inevitably in
the end lose their savor. As it is, they remain perenially

> I warmed both hands before the fire of life.
> It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

This attitude is quite as rational as that of indignation
with death. If therefore moods were to be decided by
reason, there would be quite as much reason for cheerfulness
as for despair."

-- Bertrand Russell, _The Conquest of Happiness_,
Chapter 2, "Byronic Unhappiness"

jimf said...

> War as "hygiene" perhaps encapsulates the Fascist dream of
> a pure world, ridden of the scum and dirt of society. . .
> It is also perhaps a reaction to our biological existence,
> which is essentially animal and unclean. . . We never succeed. . .
> at reaching a state of pure cleanliness. . .
> Biological existence is downright dirty.

From C. S. Lewis, _That Hideous Strength_,
Chapter 8, "Moonlight at Belbury" (pp. 172 - 173):

"At dinner he sat next to Filostrato... [who] had
just given orders for the cutting down of some fine
beech trees in the grounds...

'Why have you done that, Professor?... I'm rather
fond of trees, myself.'

'Oh yes, yes,' replied Filostrato. 'The pretty trees,
the garden trees. But not the savages... The forest
tree is a weed. But I tell you I have seen the civilized
tree in Persia. It was a French attache who had it
because he was in a place where trees do not
grow. It was made of metal. A poor, crude thing.
But how if it were perfected? Light, made of
aluminium. So natural, it would even deceive....
[C]onsider the advantages! You get tired of him
in one place: two workmen carry him somewhere
else: wherever you please. It never dies. No
leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests,
no muck and mess... At present, I allow, we must
have forests, for the atmosphere. Presently we
find a chemical substitute. And then, why **any**
natural trees? I foresee nothing but the **art**
tree all over the earth. In fact, we **clean** the
planet... You shave your face: even, in the
English fashion, you shave him every day. One
day we shave the planet.'

'I wonder what the birds will make of it?'

'I would not have any birds either. On the art tree I
would have the art birds all singing when you press
a switch inside the house. When you are tired of
the singing you switch them off... No feathers
dropped about, no nests, no eggs, no dirt.'

'It sounds... like abolishing pretty well all organic

'And why not? It is simple hygiene. Listen, my friends.
If you pick up some rotten thing and find this organic
life crawling over it, do you not say, "Oh, the horrid
thing. It is alive," and then drop it? ... And you,
especially you English, are you not hostile to any
organic life except your own on your own body?
Rather than permit it you have invented the daily
bath... And what do you call dirty dirt? Is it not
precisely the organic? Minerals are clean dirt.
But the real filth is what comes from organisms --
sweat, spittles, excretions. Is not your whole
idea of purity one huge example? The impure and
the organic are interchangeable conceptions.'

'What are you driving at, Professor? After all, we
are organisms ourselves.'

'I grant it. That is the point. In us organic life has
produced Mind. It has done its work. After that we
want no more of it. We do not want the world any
longer furred over with organic life, like what you
call the blue mould -- all sprouting and budding and
breeding and decaying. We must get rid of it.
By little and little, of course. Slowly we learn how.
Learn to make our brains live with less and less
body: learn to build our bodies directly with
chemicals, no longer have to stuff them full of
dead brutes and weeds. Learn how to reproduce
ourselves without copulation.'"

p. 174:

"'It is all true,' said Filostrato at last, 'what I said at
dinner... The world I look forward to is the world
of perfect purity. The clean mind and the clean
minerals. What are the things that most offend the
dignity of man? Birth and breeding and death.
How if we are about to discover that man can live
without any of the three? ... '"

jimf said...

pp. 177 - 179:

"'This Institute -- Dio meo, it is for something better than
housing and vaccinations and faster trains and curing
the people of cancer. It is for the conquest of death: or
for the conquest of organic life, if you prefer. They are
the same thing. It is to bring out of that cocoon of organic
life which sheltered the babyhood of mind the New Man,
the man who will not die, the artificial man, free
from Nature. Nature is the ladder we have climbed
up by, now we kick her away.'"